Originally posted on April 16, 2013 by Bethany Cook
“The Living Building Challenge is LEED on steroids,” says Rich Dodd, project Manager of Berea College’s new Deep Green Residence Hall, with lots of “extra special efforts” along the way designed to make the building not only 55% more energy efficient than most buildings, but the entire construction process more sustainable.
Last month, for example, expenditures on recycled materials totaled 28 percent of material costs. “Aluminum cans, all the stuff that contractors have for lunch, even the fill dirt taken from the site, scrap wood, 100 percent of the scrap metal—all of that job-site waste is recycled” says Rich Dodd, noting that about 91 percent of all waste material generated from the Deep Green Dorm’s construction is re-used.
As we walk toward the construction site, a light rain carves out channels in the mud surrounding Berea College’s Green Res Hall jobsite as the industrious clanks, buzzes, calls of “heads up” and putter of machinery drone on despite the weather. Workers busily lay the building’s brick facade made entirely from the tailings of other manufacturers, their yellow safety vests forming a network of dots against the building’s scaffolding. Meanwhile, workers below in hardhats and heavy ear-muffs tend to the drilling of the geothermal wells on the east side of the building, beneath what will be dorm’s parking lot.
Geothermal heating and cooling is one of the most energy efficient systems out there, according to Dodd. This is because geothermal capitalizes on naturally occurring temperatures deep underground, rather working to turn the much colder (or hotter) outside air to the wanted indoor temperatures. Typically geothermal systems use about 40 percent less fossil fuels than conventional heating and cooling systems. The Deep Green Dorm’s system will circulate water through 1 inch pipes buried in 50 different wells 375 feet underground. The water in these pipes will absorb the underground temperatures, which normally hover at roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit. From here the water will be pumped from the wells to an indoor heat-exchanger or chiller as the season demands and continue on throughout the rest of the building to each individual coil unit. A blower on each coil unit will distribute the warm or cool air to each dorm room, each regulated by individual thermostats, so students will have control over the temperature of their dorm room.
“Honestly, the temperature is not going to fluctuate as much as you’d normally see in buildings,” says Dodd, pointing to the highly insulated shell of the building— three inch thick pockets on either side filled with foam insulation sandwiched by another three inches of air-space. Dodd refers to this as the building envelope. “The outside air is not getting to this steel” says Dodd, thumping the heavy steel column supporting the ceiling above, “So you won’t have cold temperatures on the outside transferring through the steel to the floor slab inside. It’s not going to be toasty warm, but neither will it frost up.” Several other buildings on campus also utilize geothermal systems, including Fairchild, Woods-Penn, Frost, and Phelps-Stokes.
Says Vice President of Operations and Sustainability Steve Karcher, “We’ve been incorporating sustainable features in our renovations for the last 15 years,” noting the college’s recent renovations in rainwater catchment, low-flow toilets, and energy efficient lighting. “What’s remarkable,” continues Karcher, “Is that while the Deep Green Dorm will be among the most energy efficient and sustainable such buildings in the country, it doesn’t rely on remarkably expensive and risky new technologies or construction processes.”
“Industry-wide if you go from just a standard meeting code building to doing a LEED anything it’s about 30% of material costs,” says Dodd. But these costs are expected to quickly be made up in reduced energy and maintenance costs. The building’s oversized air ducts, for example, will both reduce friction of air-flow and the strain on the air handlers bringing in outside air, minimizing both energy and maintenance costs.
As we pick our way past the giant piles of insulation still to be installed and stacks of poplar two by four boards harvested from the Berea College Forest (48,868 board feet of lumber total), Dodd points out hitches along the way, features which proved difficult to meet the third-party LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certification standards. For one thing, the contractors had to ditch any products containing red-list products such as PVC, formaldehyde, or neoprene. The prevalence of these materials has proved difficult in sourcing some products, and in many cases requiring innovation. The substance used to waterproof restrooms and shower rooms, for example, had to be changed, as did the roof paints, and numerous other product. Neoprene is typically in pipe insulation, so they had to find a replacement for that. Sourcing materials without PVC was also a challenge, as it is present in almost everything these days, not just in pipes but in carpets and even windows.
Overhead men are soldering pipes together. Dodd points to the air ducts next to where they work, recounting that one of the most difficult challenges was coming up with a duct putty that passed code. “Its really, really tough,” says Dodd, “With lots of effort on everybody’s part, from the subcontractors, to the contractors, to Berea College, to the architects, and the engineers.” He continues, “Third party certification programs aren’t an ‘end all’ to sustainability efforts, but they are a means to an end. We chose to measure this project with a LEED Platinum Certification. That is the highest, most stringent certification. We also chose to use several of the Living Building Challenge’s prescriptive paths because of their holistic nature…by forgoing substances like hydrofluorocarbons, phthalates, wood treatments containing creosote, etc., the building will be a healthier place for our students.”
Many of the ‘holistic’ features Dodd mentions will contribute to the overall beauty of the building. Tall ceilings and relatively spacious rooms, each designed to be ADA compliant, with enough to square footage to accommodate two wheel-chair bound students are just one part of the draw. Large floor to ceiling windows allow a flood of natural lighting as well as a good view of the hills beyond. Every floor will have a large open study area and kitchenette, and will feature art-nooks where student crafts will be displayed, lit by night by little LED lights. Student harvested and crafted furniture will also adorn the rooms and study areas, as well as form the baseboards and decorative finishes. Even the shape of the building itself is designed to invite the outside surroundings inside. An L shape layout, the building has one long South facing and East facing wall, opened up so that the East facing side still has south-east exposure to the sun.
The building is projected to be completed in June 2013. The West wing of the building is currently being drywalled and the East half is about to fitted with the wood trim from the college forest. Furniture will begin to be moved in come May. By fall of 2013, students will grace the halls of the college’s newest, most energy efficient building on campus.